Until he was 8, Bill Clinton Hadam's whole world was a 2,000-person refugee camp in Tanzania. Photos show him as a solemn, surprised-looking boy in donated clothes, against a background of grass walls and red dirt. But ask him about his life there, and often he's stumped.
Interviewing young kids is like that: Big, abstract questions don't work as well as concrete, tangible ones. But in Bill's case, it's more than that: he literally doesn't have words for a lot of what he's seen, and I don't always have the experience to imagine it.
Piece by piece, though, often through chance encounters, a picture of his life in Tanzania is emerging. Recently, at a local playground, he picked up a weathered, plastic toy wheelbarrow.
"We used to have this," he said.
"A wheelbarrow?" I asked.
"This?" he fingered it uncertainly. I confirmed its English name.
It seemed unlikely that there had ever been a wheelbarrow in Bill's Georgia apartment, so I asked, "When you lived in Tanzania, you had it?"
Yes, Bill said, and he used it to carry rocks, and wood - "and if you push your friend in it, it's really fun." He and his pals took turns giving each other rides.
Another day, talking about soccer, he recalled the older friend in the camp who showed him how to make a homemade ball out of plastic grocery bags and string. They played soccer all the time, he remembered - when they weren't playing hide-and-seek.
Later, a chance conversation about kangaroos led to a story of stopping to examine a dead kangaroo in a Tanzanian roadway. (Kangaroos don't frequent Africa, but he seemed convinced.)
Gradually, he's translating such experiences into American English.
"It was kinda stinky," he said.